The Language of Art and Music Inspires

by Carrie Callahan

The great composer and music educator Zoltan Kodaly stated, “Music is a manifestation of the human spirit, similar to language.  Its greatest practitioners have conveyed to mankind things not possible to say in any other language.”  I received my training to become a Kodaly Master Teacher at the Hong Kong Baptist University in May of 2002 under the direct supervision of Mark A. Williams. At the same time, I studied Chinese Brush Painting with Jeremy Liu, a Beijing teacher and artist based in Hong Kong.  These two areas of study would change the way I approached teaching forever.

I was honored to learn a method of teaching music that would inspire students to at least give music a try.  The Kodaly Method hails back to the 1900s.  Kodaly believed that music was a language that could be taught, trained, and performed.  The three P’s of Kodaly are Prepare, Present and Practice.  The teacher prepares the student to receive a new concept, the terminology/technique is presented and then it is practiced over and over.  The power that music literacy gives to a child not only allows them to be a performer on a stage but also makes them a confident member of the school community.  They are taught to be perceptive, to practice, and present the knowledge they have been fed in the classroom.  As they perform, they engage the audience in a journey of musical emotion.  I have been able to use the Kodaly Method, in my years working at QSI, to build this confidence in our students.  I have seen students beam with pride as they perform at concerts and recitals but also in the classroom when they are reciting poetry or asking a question in class.  And so, why not use this same method in the art classroom? 

I now use the three P’s of Kodaly in the art room in this way:

  1. Prepare:  Students review the work of a new artist.  We read a book about an artist or look at examples of their work.  Students observe, explore content, and identify the elements of art.  They talk about the technique used and ask questions.
  2. Present:  The teacher presents the element used or confirms the suggestions of the student in the prepare step.  The teacher gives new terminology used in the process of creating the art being studied.
  3. Practice:  Students practice by sketching, painting, cutting, or whatever skill is being explored.  This practice continues into the next lesson and scaffolding occurs.  New language is solidified as students use it in the following lessons. 

Using Kodaly’s Method has resulted in an increased sense of understanding in art classes.  Art has now become part of their vocabulary or is also a “manifestation of the human spirit, similar to language.”  Students have grown to use the elements of art and principles of design.  They learn that art contains vocabulary, skill, technique, and choice.  Students are responding with eagerness to learn more about art and are actively engaged in the artist process. 

An example of using the Kodaly Method would be teaching line to 5-Year-Old Students.  The three P’s of Kodaly fit perfectly. 

  1.  Prepare: Students use little cars to move across the floor.  They had them move over hills (curved lines), move and stop (broken lines), make circles (curly lines) and so forth. 
  2. Present:  Present the terminology by showing them posters of the line family – Uncle Zig Zag, Mama Curly, Papa Straight, and so on.
  3. Practice:  Fun creation of line monsters which are painted and displayed!  Now children are talking about lines when they are writing their names.  They are making connections.

Our students desire to have skills in art just like they do in music class.  It is wonderful to see them thrive in both areas with positive results.  Students from 5 to the 13-year-old classes are creating work that is splendid.  Peer support and interaction is a focal point in all our classes.  Students will take gallery walks during class time to not only give advice to one another but also glean ideas from each other.  It is encouraging to hear them make statements like, “I appreciate the complementary colors you used in this piece of work.”  They also offer advice to one another saying, “Take a look at the work of Matisse and see how he used fluid shapes in his work to fill negative spaces.”  They are using the language of art to communicate with one another. 

One important part of guiding a music and art program has also been the product and/or the performance.  Students are excited to see work displayed through the school.  Their art pieces are performing the same way their stringed instruments would play Mozart.  Students are talking about Picasso and Hunt Slonem like they are household names.  We have written to Mr. Slonem to share our interpretations of his work and heard back from him within 10 hours.  Students were thrilled to get his input on our work and help us through the process. 

Our community leans towards the education of art.  Recently, we visited a gallery where Albrecht Durer’s work was displayed.  Classes walked through the gallery talking about how Durer used amazing detail in his work.  They made a connection to a recent project using zentangles by saying, “He even used zentangles in his work to show motion in the water.” 

Students are engaged and excited about creating new works of art.  One student has taken to spray paint art.  We have displayed his work proudly in our stairwell.  It is exciting to hear students talk about the art and encourage this new artist in his endeavors.  We speak regularly about new techniques he can use and how he can improve his work.  Other students have also shown interest in expanding their work of art by coming to afterschool work sessions. 

As students express themselves through the languages of art and music, we will have a colorful, expressive world!  Our next step is to create a piece of art tying music into our work by using color and sound to fill a canvas.  Let us make a difference through sound and color!

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